FreightWaves Classics: The US Army’s Cross Country Convoy Started 103 Years Ago
It’s hard to believe that in 1919 – just over 100 years ago – the vast majority of roads in the country were unpaved. At that time, only 12% of rural roads in the country had been “tarred”. However, this definition included roads that were mostly poorly maintained and had dirt or gravel surfaces. Moreover, no federal authority supervised the construction; and the few decent roads that existed remained unconnected.
World War I ended on November 11, 1918. A few months later, the U.S. Army Motor Transport Corps Transcontinental Convoy (MTC-TCC) was organized. The convoy was organized and executed as a cross-country trip from Washington, DC to the Presidio in San Francisco. He left Washington 103 years ago tomorrow. The route used was the Lincoln Highway,
The Lincoln Highway opened in 1913 as the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway. Although it had a lofty name, the “path” was, in reality, a patchwork of connecting roads, many of which were nothing more than undeveloped dirt roads, especially west of the Mississippi River. .
The objectives of the convoy
The main purpose of the convoy was to test the mobility of servicemen in wartime. World War I had changed warfare in many ways – including the use of motorized transport, aircraft and tanks.
The convoy used standardized military trucks, as well as motor cars and motorcycles, to gather valuable data and experience in the use of the development of the relatively new concept of motorized transport. Another purpose of the convoy was to evaluate the various classes of trucks and cars that the Army’s Motor Transport Corps had used during the World War, as well as some recently released models being considered by various American manufacturers.
The convoy also provided a unique opportunity to gain insight into the state of US roads and automotive infrastructure.
vehicles and people
The expedition consisted of 81 motorized army vehicles. The Army Motor Transport Corps convoy included 34 heavy cargo trucks, four light delivery trucks, two mobile machine shops, a blacksmith shop and a heavy trailer carrying a winch-equipped artillery tractor electric. This tractor, called Militor, was capable of pulling several trucks at once. It was the real workhorse of the convoy.
In addition, the convoy included “two spare parts stores, two water tanks, a gasoline tank, a searchlight with a power plant truck, four kitchen trailers, eight passenger cars, a reconnaissance car, two cars observation decks, five sidecar motorcycles, and four solo motorcycles as well as five GMC ambulances with two ambulance trailers and a Loder 4-ton pontoon trailer More than 20 of the trucks were standardized Class B “Liberty trucks” of the 3-ton army.
Liberty trucks had been built during the war with standard interchangeable parts so they could be produced quickly and easily repaired. The trucks had big engines, big gas tanks, big radiators and maximum ground clearance for the European landscape. The trucks also needed a large number of mechanics to keep them running.
The convoy was meant to be self-contained and self-sufficient, carrying bridge construction equipment so that in the event of a collapse or structural damage, repairs could be made quickly. It was the heaviest, longest, best-equipped and best-equipped army motorized convoy at the time.
The expedition consisted of 24 officers and 258 enlisted men. The military personnel involved were Company E of the 5th Army Engineers, Unit 595 of the Quartermaster Service Park, Companies E and F of the 333rd Motorized Supply Train, a medical unit and an artillery detachment the country.
In addition, there were official observers traveling with the convoy. There were 17 officers representing the nine branches of the military. Among the War Department observers was 28-year-old Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Several civilian companies also accompanied the convoy. Most were vehicle and parts suppliers, and three were tire manufacturers.
Leaving the National Capital
Amid great fanfare, the convoy (which was three miles long from start to finish) left Washington, D.C. on July 7, 1919. The ceremonial departure also included the dedication of what was known as the Zero Milestones. Located south of the White House grounds, the milestone marked the starting point of this The New York Times described as “the largest motor vehicle aggregation ever started for a journey of such length”.
Two motorcycles from the convoy made a reconnaissance of about 30 minutes in front of the main body in order to report the conditions and place markers. The convoy was led by the 5th Engineers and their heavy artillery trucks, followed by the machine and blacksmith shops. Engineers were responsible for repairing or replacing insufficient bridges or making minor road improvements along the way.
The weather was good for the first two days the convoy was on the road. It entered Pennsylvania on July 8 and reached Gettysburg, where it merged with the Lincoln Highway. However, all-day rain on July 10 turned dirt roads into slippery, muddy ones that caused delays; one vehicle was lost after skidding off the road in the mountainous area and crashing into a hill.
Along the route, the convoy was often diverted around various obstacles, often onto even more poorly maintained secondary dirt roads. The artillery tractor was constantly used to tow broken down or immobilized vehicles. Consequently, the mechanics of the Quartermaster Corps were in the rear, tending to the necessary repairs.
Last year, FreightWaves Classics published several articles on the key stages of the convoy’s cross-country journey, and will do so again in 2022. To better understand the road conditions and difficulties encountered by the convoy, consider this – he covered a distance of 3,251 miles in 62 days – an average of just 52 miles per day.
In that summer of 1919 – again only 103 years ago – the members of the convoy learned firsthand the difficulties motorists encountered in traveling significant distances on often impassable roads. The vehicles in the convoy were heavier than the cars and trucks of the time, but they nevertheless suffered from frequent breakdowns.
Perhaps the most unintended consequence of the convoy was that Lt. Col. Eisenhower’s experiences on the trip influenced his later decisions regarding the construction of the nation’s interstate highway system during his presidential administration.